When the Space Shuttle Columbia started pulling apart across the east Texas sky in 2003, remnants of the craft were scattered across an area of 100 miles. When the bulk of the shuttle descended in Hemphill, Texas, near the Louisiana border, it triggered one of the largest non-terrorist forensic investigations in American history.
When NASA put out a call for assistance, more than 3000 volunteers from Hemphill and the surrounding area stepped up, doing everything from an inch-by-inch search of the surrounding forests to cooking up meals a thousand or more home-cooked meals each day in the city center for all of the rescue teams.
The Patricia Huffman Smith NASA Museum is well worth this trek into deep east Texas. The museum opened on February 1, 2011, the eighth anniversary of the shuttle’s tragic accident, and tells the story of space exploration from Columbia’s first mission to its last.
The museum also honors the crew of STS-107 who lost their lives, and recognizes the efforts of those who worked on the investigation. A small area is dedicated to each crewmember, as well as the Texas Forest Service employee and the helicopter pilot who lost their lives during the recovery effort.
Know Before You Go
As of the time of this posting, the closest hotels are about 30 minutes away in San Augustine, Texas' first settlement, dating to the 1600s. The drive, along the old Camino Reale (King's Highway) is densely populated with historical markers, though, well worth a few extra hours to explore this Lonesome Dove pathway into Texas.